but i AM a writer

“but i AM a writer” – Marlen attempts to define what a “writer” is and finds that perhaps he might just be one.

“A writer is a person who creates novels – a writer is a storyteller,” or so I’ve always thought. Of course I understood that there were other kinds of writers – journalists, reporters and documentarians, biographers and playwrights, but these identities never really held much importance for me…they didn’t register. No, a writer is a storyteller. True, I told stories, and for school, I wrote stories in my journal. I even enjoyed this process. And so despite the fact that adolescence had indeed called on me to be a writer, crafting stories, profiles, or “vignettes” as I liked to think of them, I somehow didn’t assume the identity. My stories weren’t very well developed, more like descriptions of brief moments in time; I felt that this was my unique brand of expression and liked to share my creativity with friends, but still hoped to one day be a real writer, not merely a writer in the worlds of my journal.

An evening of solitude in Amsterdam at the age of 19, just me and my journal, found me crafting a story about a man and his paper shredder. Next I turned to other ideas for novels, or in my mind novellas because I somehow felt that anything more than 20 pages just wouldn’t come out of me. Something Oedipal burped its way out and a the makingd of a thriller emerged. One idea tuned into another and nothing ever seemed to continue so I came up with “all that is not now is just practice for later” as a way of establishing that what doesn’t become a novel today, becomes preparation for later works. It was the same with composing music, another talent I hit upon a few years earlier before my discovery of the written word. I could create the melody, play it, remember it, build it, expand upon it, link it to other melodies, but I didn’t write my music down. It seems my creativity always stops short, reaches a point where no additional progress is achieved. Music, writing, painting…I’m a dabbler, always have been a dabbler, and never a master.

My twenties arrived and left me needing to be more than myself. Whoever I was, it just wasn’t enough and so I became a writer – that was a mask I tried to wear. I also wore a mask of counselor to greater effect, and even the mask of teacher, albeit at times unknowingly. But “writer” wasn’t a mask that fit particularly well. I was just another chorus boy, full of energy and talent, but never at centerstage. Perhaps this is why in my 20’s I realized I was not a writer. Or was I? I freelanced at a DC newspaper for a time…for a time. And then what? The journal, there was the journal again. And Orange Blossom and Muriel – characters that visited me briefly. But no, it was clear I was not a writer.

And then a funny thing happened – I started writing for internet websites, and then eventually a blog or two. My work is not a novel, it’s not a newspaper, it’s not even narrative forgodsakes. But sure enough my ideas were tapped out on computer keys to form words and by jove there was even an audience. Surprise, surprise. But still, it was a journal, wasn’t it? I mean, a blog is a journal, right? Again with the journal. But the fact remains that since that time in late December of 2005, I haven’t stopped writing. Mostly I critique, sometimes I write stories for my very own column, often I chat as part of an interview. But am I a writer?

I’m now beginning to understand that my definition of what a writer is has always kept me from realizing that I’ve been wearing a mask all along. I may not be a novelist, and maybe I should take my earlier mantra to heart – I’m not a novelist yet…but I AM a writer. Aren’t I?


About Marlen Harrison

Dr. Marlen Elliot Harrison has been teaching language, communication, composition, literature and gender/sexuality studies at universities in Asia, Europe and North America since 1997.
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